President Barack Obama’s policy proposals on gun safety after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT have been released in a statement earlier this week. Among them is the suggestion that schools are in the best position to make decisions about their students’ safety.
The preliminary guidelines from the White House indicate that schools that wish to hire armed guards to patrol their hallways should be able to do so – and should be able to rely on the federal government to fund them. However, the final decision on whether guards are needed should be left to the schools.
In addition, the President said that the government should set aside funding for hiring and training of 1,000 new school resource officers. The SROs should be police officers who have the specific training to work in schools.
The plan also proposes a new $150 million “Comprehensive School Safety program” that would “help school districts hire staff and make other critical investments in school safety.” School districts and law enforcement will be able to use the money to pay for school guards, psychologists, counselors and social workers.
The statement acknowledges that all schools face different levels of risk and that a one-size-fits-all approach to safety will not work. Instead, school officials who feel that armed guards are necessary for their students’ protection should have the freedom and the money to hire them. Those who feel that guards are unnecessary shouldn’t be forced to put them in their hallways.
The decision not to require or encourage the presence of armed guards in schools follows a heated national debate over that question after last week’s news that Vice President Joe Biden’s gun control task force was considering funding them. One group with which Biden met while formulating the policy was the American Federation of Teachers union, which recommended bringing police into schools on a case-by-case basis — and that when the option is chosen, the officers be treated not as stationed armed guards but as “part of the fabric of the school community.”
A number of states are considering amending their gun-free-zone statutes to allow teachers and school workers to carry guns in school. At least 18 states already have such regulations on the books. These measures have been criticized by both gun safety advocates and teachers themselves as an overreaction.
The National Education Association, the largest of the nation’s teachers unions, polled its members about their feelings on armed teachers and school employees. Nearly 70% felt that such policies are wrong-headed, with 61% expressing a strong level of disapproval.